After over 100 years, a trolley clatters down retirement road

A recent photo of the ancient Trolley 5164 as it sat in a yard near Mattapan Station. It has served various Boston transit companies and agencies since 1907. Photo courtesy The Lone Rider

Identified only as car 5164, it was never well known. It was only one among an order of 100 identical Type 3 passenger cars when it first arrived, shiny and new, from the St. Louis Car Company in 1907.

For two decades, it anonymously lugged passengers down tracks that spread through the streets of East Boston, Everett, Somerville, Medford, and Brookline like so many veins on the back of an old man's hand.

"It was huge then," said retired MBTA instructor Daniel Cohen of Boston's transit system. "They didn't have buses yet. It ran all over East Boston, Dorchester, Mattapan, Cambridge, Somerville, everywhere."

In 1927, the Type 3's became snowplows. With 32 tons of weight and larger-than-average wheels they were ideally suited to clearing the tracks. One operator would take the traditional driver's seat, and another sat mid-train to control the plow blades.

"They could blast through anything," said Cohen.

They cleared the snow all over town back when it was the trolley companies, not the city, that held the responsibility of clearing the streets. In 1986, well after many streetcar rails had been ripped out or paved over in favor of buses and the automobile, 5164 was limited to clearing the historic Ashmont-Mattapan line. Over the years, all of its other 1907 brethren retired, finding homes in scrap yards or museums.

Car 5164 rolled on, well into the 21st Century, keeping it together for almost 100 years of service. Recently it was retired to siding near Mattapan Station. One other Type 3 survivor, car 5138, sat idly over near the Riverside stop on the Green Line. But while the Mattapan Station was being renovated, both were hauled north to the Seashore Trolley Museum in Maine, where Cohen also spends a good deal of his post-retirement time.

"Most of the old cars that are left [in the MBTA] now are from the 30s and 40s," Cohen said. "The older ones were simpler, made of wood with exposed electric wiring."

After all these years, only one eccentric blogger, who refused to identify himself as anything other than "The Lone Rider" in a recent Reporter phone interview, seemed to take special notice of car 5164's disappearance after the Mattapan renovations.

"Before the yard closed the car was off to the side - and then it wasn't anymore. So I did a little investigating," he said. "I looked at the inventory list and sure enough the museum had bought it."

Luckily for him, the Lone Rider is equally fascinated by modern buses as he is by antiquated streetcars. This includes the Neoplan AN440, which he recently spotted during a rare appearance on bus route 111, according to his 'No Free Transfer' blog.

"It's fascinating really, how they change over time," he said.

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